he first thing that I always look for in a wrestling game is a create-a-character mode that allows me to concoct hideous mutant fighters that make those around me question what goes on in the darker recesses of my brain. Fortunately, Smackdown Vs. Raw offers just that, and soon I was beginning my career as a mountainous man who looked like an evil bondage teddy bear.
In season mode, I took my grotesque wrestler from the bottom of the WWE ranks to the champion belt of both the Smackdown! and Raw brands by beating the Undertaker in a Three Stages of Hell match for possession of both heavyweight titles. Throughout the season, I earned experience points to increase my stats, as well as money to unlock goodies like new move sets, legends like the Road Warriors, Mankind, and Bret Hart, and plenty of Diva goodness like sexy loading screens and alternate costumes for the super-classy Bra and Panties matches.
As much fun as it is to pump up my wrestler into an unstoppable monster, the thing I appreciated most about Season mode is how it took me through all the match types available in Exhibition mode and taught me how to play them. With a bevy of gimmick matches, there are plenty of game mechanics to learn, but the streamlined control scheme offers tons of options with little confusion. Smackdown Vs. Raw uses the familiar scheme in which pressing a direction on the d-pad while hitting the strike or grapple button triggers a different move. This is the core of gameplay, but counters, finishing moves, running, and all other familiar wrestling moves are implemented with similar ease.
While the basic gameplay is in keeping with most wrestling games, several new features take things to the next level. While it sounds odd, minigames have been added – some matches start with a simple staredown or shoving minigame to determine who gets the upper hand, and submission moves can trigger a minigame in which you attempt to stop a moving ball in the center of the meter to escape. These and other minigames are completely unobtrusive, and offer a nice way to handle certain actions without resorting to button-mashing. There’s even a spanking game in the Bra and Panties matches that offers a spicy little reward if completed.
Other new additions are the Clean and Dirty meters, which fill up when your wrestler performs certain actions. Since I wrestled as a heel, my Dirty meter filled up by using weapons, holding submissions after a rope break was called, removing the padding from turnbuckles, and other dirty tricks. When filled, the Dirty meter rewarded me with a low blow that devastated my opponent. The Clean meter rewards crowd-pleasing actions, and gives the player a Hulk Hogan-style burst of adrenaline, but who wants to play nice?
These new additions, plus fun match types like Parking Lot Brawls, online play, and superstar voiceovers really sucked me into this game and provided a wrestling experience that is a heck of a lot of fun and very faithful to the WWE experience. I would have liked more variety in the announcer’s dialogue and the music, but those are minor complaints about what is otherwise a damn fine wrestling game. I’d even go as far as to name Smackdown Vs. Raw the new champion.